Sunday, January 27, 2013

What Has It Cost You?

The other night I decided to get one of the first Bibles ever given to me down from the shelf. My parents had given me "The Way", in 1978. It is called the Living Bible which is a paraphrase and it has been many years since I have read this version of God's Holy Word. As I flipped through its pages I was brought back to my sixteenth year and the passion I had to change the world for Christ. Scripture after Scripture was underlined in purple, pink, blue, and even orange marker so I could find them easily again. The daily reading chart was almost all filled in and my favourite Scripture passages were written inside the covers. It is a well loved, well marked up Bible and I am thankful my parents gave it to me. It is written in plain English and was just what a searching teen needed. It has been the Bible I have been using for my daily devotions for the past few days.

Last night I came upon Paul's list of the hardships he had to bear as a follower of Christ. My sixteen year old self had put brackets around it and wrote in the margin beside it these words: "could we do it?". And I ask you today the same question as you read Paul's list.

2 Corinthians 11:23-33,12:9

 I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have travelled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.[c] 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?
30 If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. 31 God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is worthy of eternal praise, knows I am not lying. 32 When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. 33 I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him.... Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What has it cost you to be a Christian, a follower of Christ? Has it cost you some scorn or ridicule at work or in your family? Has it cost you friendships? What has your decision to follow Christ cost you? Most certainly it hasn't cost you as much as it did Paul. And again I ask: 'could we do it?'. Could we go through the trials Paul did and, as he said in verse 10, take pleasure in it, knowing that we are counted worthy to bear these trials? 

Somehow we have been fed the idea that to be a Christian we will be rich, free from any worries and burdens, happy-go-lucky and walking on sunshine all the time. But we live in a sinful world, the same world which hated Christ, refused His message and crucified Him. Why would that same world accept us? Well, it would if they couldn't tell we belong to Christ; that we are one of His followers. Everyone knew Paul was a follower of Christ. He didn't blend in. He didn't act like the rest of the world; the unbelievers. He was different. He stood out. He stood up for what counted. 

Paul didn't camouflage himself  by not wanting to  confront sin. He wasn't worried about offending someone by telling the truth. He wasn't worried about losing friends, being ridiculed, scorned or ostracised. His only concern was to live for Christ and be true to Him. Could we do it? 

I once heard a story given in a sermon about how Christians in different parts of the world look at burdens or hardships. The North American Christian, living in an affluent society, says 'Lord, take this burden from my back' while the Christian living in oppression says 'Lord, strengthen my back to bear this burden'. Two different ways to look at hardships. We North American Christians can go to church without fear of arrest. We can wear t-shirts proclaiming our faith. We can own a Bible and read it in public. We have many freedoms which Christians in other parts of the world have never known. So when we have hardships or trials come into our lives, we immediately think that we are being punished and we want no part of it. We are so used to comfort that we avoid being uncomfortable at any cost. But James says:  

 James 1:2-4

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

We need to change our mindset. We are so worried about being accepted and living a life free from any trials and tribulations, a life of ease, that we tend to want to blend in. But we are called to be the salt and light to this world. We are called to stand out and stand up. We're called to be followers of Christ. Imitators of Him. The world should see us and know we are different. 

 1 Peter 4:12-14  Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.  Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian,  for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.
When we face trials because of our faith, we face them with Christ by our side. He will protect us, defend us, care for us and love us. He will help us stay true to Him. He will give us the courage we need to take a stand for what is right. He will give us the words to say when our faith is challenged and He will give us the comfort we need when our stand costs us friends and family. 
 2 Timothy 1:12 
That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.

There is a cost to following after Jesus. If you've counted the cost you know that it is worth any discomfort we may have here on this earth compared to all the riches we will have and experience in Glory. But maybe you've been flying under the radar as a Christian. Maybe those around you don't know of your decision to follow Christ. Maybe they think that you are just a 'good' person. Maybe you've been content not to rock the boat and you've compromised your beliefs and turned a blind eye to sin. Its time to take a stand and stand up for Jesus. Its time to  count the cost and tell the world that you are a follower of Christ. 
 Mark 8:34  “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.
It is a choice to become a follower of Christ. Its not just a get out of Hell free card. It's a choice of how I am going to live my life. I am going to, to the best of my ability, be an imitator of Christ. That choice will come at a cost. Are you willing to pay the price? Are you willing to say as the song writer once said: "take this whole world but give me Jesus, take this whole world but give me Jesus, take this whole world but give me Jesus, no turning back, no turning back."

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